The 21 Enemies of Influence

Did you know there are 21 global and personal barriers (or enemies) that conspire to block our chances of influence?

1. Influence and Fragmented Media

In bygone times we might take a break from our daily chores to listen attentively to a town crier. In the 17th century we could pick up a newspaper for insights and updates. Then, early in the 20th century, we’d eagerly surrender our attention and cluster around a radio. Or, perhaps even, a TV. Then, state TV channels were joined by their commercial counterparts.

And now? Now, we have hundreds of media channels. They’re all competing for the same finite amount of attention. And there’s on-line content and social media too.

2. Influence and Abundant Information

You’ll have seen them no doubt: a whole host of often-quoted statistics about the pace of new content creation. It’s currently around several billion unique pieces of content published and shared globally every day – and rising. Anyone can publish anything they like. (Reading this is proof of that!)

The barriers to publishing (Cost of printing, publishing videos etc.) no longer exist. So, every day, we face an overwhelming personal challenge. We battle to process a tsunami of tweets, emails, pop up adverts, newsletters, shares, updates, white papers, podcasts, programmes, texts … the list goes on.

How can anyone with a message break through all that bewildering noise?

And how is any consumer of information supposed to cope with it all?

Well, here’s one way:

3. Influence and Ninja Ignorers

It’s a simple matter of self preservation. As consumers, we cope by heuristically cherry picking information worthy of our attention. That means we intuitively favour certain information. We prefer information that is anticipated, timely, relevant, valuable and interesting – with our express permission to be received by us.

We can afford to be choosy because there is so much choice. We are only a Google search away from another perfect timely unique content solution. And we’ve become very very good at sifting out the dross. We’re good at ignoring information that doesn’t meet our criteria.

Even carefully and creatively-produced content isn’t immune. That’s because we can spot promotional approaches masquerading as interesting information! And we are all much better informed about marketing tricks and tactics than ever before. We can smell a sales pitch at 20 paces. We tune out sales pitches:

  • We hang up on telephone calls offering free surveys;
  • We can’t move the mouse quickly enough to click ‘close window’ when we are interrupted by a pop up.
  • Our hearts drop when we race down the stairs to open the door to be face to face with yet another Jehovah’s Witness.

We seek out the kind of information and human interaction that we hope will make us feel good. We want to feel informed, feel inspired; or, at the very least, feel something other than interrupted!

4. Influence and Diminishing Attention Spans

I’ll let you into a secret. We’ve just swum the channel. The fact that you are still reading this far – after all these time-consuming words and ideas – flies in the face of all convention about shortening attention spans. We’ve completely and utterly smashed it! And I know I’m already punching well above my weight. That’s why I’ve focused on bite sized chunks of fascination. It’s all in my hope of clinging on to your attention for a few desperate seconds longer!

5. Influence and Peer Pressure

Part of the overwhelming issue of abundant information is the sheer volume of advice. And the varying quality too. Personal advice adds to the churn of confusion. Marketers, for example, are the organisational equivalent of a football manager. Everyone thinks they can do your job better. And everyone has an opinion. Advice typically falls into two camps: 1. The shiny tactic chasers and 2. The change avoiders. And they’re up next …

6. Influence and Shiny New Tactic Chasers

Humans have an in-built fascination with the new: “You want to get on Twitter – it’s free!”. Then there’s: “You want to get on that Pinterest.” Or even: “What do you mean – we’re not on Snapchat?!” Colleagues love to share the next big thing. It’s as though to catch you out for not having thought of it first! (Especially if a competitor is already using it.)

But marketers don’t necessarily need encouraging. We love to indulge in a spot of shiny new tactic chasing. And I’m guilty of this too.  Before you know it, you’re chasing your tail as you keep up with a torrent of new channels, tricks and hacks.

David Meerman Scott uses a lovely analogy of young footballers (soccer players) busily clustering around the ball in the hope of a kick. They’re so engrossed in the ball that they forget about the goals. How many marketers are like that?

7. Influence and Change Avoiders

“Why aren’t we in yellow pages any more? It always used to work in my day.” How is a marketer supposed to appease the devotees of traditional interruption tactics, whilst shaping a brave new future of authentic engagement? Our communication judgement is clouded by a comfort blanket. It’s the comfort blanket of tired fading tactics. It’s a legacy of a bygone mass media age. And we’re not giving them up lightly.

8. Influence and Magic Bullets

Accountability demands results. And fast. The results had better look good in a pie chart embedded in a PowerPoint! Whatever you spend the money on needs to deliver an accountable return. And we need to be able to measure it too. All this long term strategy stuff is all very nice and fluffy – but we have wages to pay. So, what are we doing about our bottom line? Today?!

And, don’t forget, as you pursue that bottom line impact, there’s another challenge. The ninja ignorers will smell your desperation as you chase the close. Maybe they’ll spot your sporadic outcome-focused contributions to their conversations?  But ultimately, in the end, they’ll tune you out.

9. Influence and Versions

Look at the leading organisations in most sectors. Then take a look at a handful of their competitors. It’s no coincidence that they all display many similar attributes. Many copy each other’s strategies and tactics. (In my own PR sector you can’t move for parallax scrolling websites, for example.)

Plagiarism, and even best practice, numbs individuality. It becomes a barrier to letting customers know, like and trust you. It stops buyers understanding your organisation’s unique purpose and difference.

Here’s an example. I worked in an agency where a really strange phenomenon occurred. One of the line managers had a habitual style in her written emails. She always started her emails by saying:

Hello <name>,
How are you today? I hope you are well.

Before commencing with the main meat of the message. Then, as the email drew to a close she would then sign off:

If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me,
Kind regards,

Every day, every email to every client included the same top and tail phrases. She had found a formula. It reflected her desire to be informal without needing to thinking of something personally spontaneous for each email. That was weird enough.

But then something even stranger happened.

As you skimmed through the project files and took a closer look at the emails, a pattern was developing. Everyone in the department was slowly but surely adopting the very same top and tail phrases. Almost by osmosis, junior staff were observing and copying the format to ensure it met with approval.

On the face of it, they were perfectly polite. Perfectly pleasant. But, what were clients thinking? What would they make of the repeated formulaic messages from each different individual within the agency? They must’ve wondered if they were connecting with a real person or a robot.

This ‘best’ communication practice fuels cliches.

What does anyone really learn about anything when yet another accountant tells you how professional they are or a business tells you it: “is passionate about your problems”; ‘exceeds client expectations”; or, “goes the extra mile”?

“In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.”

Cluetrain Manifesto – Thesis 15

10. Influence and the Erosion of Consumer Trust

The Edelman Trust Barometer is an annual global study into the level of trust in government, business, media and NGO’s (Non Government Organisations).

Ironically, this year’s trust barometer is actually up! But that doesn’t hide the fact that the people in 6 out of 10 countries in the world are categorised as predominantly distrustful. Only 57% in the UK and 64% in the US trust what they hear. It also reveals the power of peer recommendation enjoys as much as 75% trust.

And you are welcome to check if my belligerent summary holds true. Here’s the detail:

All this mistrust fuels the growing legions of Ninja Ignorers and Savvy Stakeholders (Enemy number 19)

11. Influence and (Arrogant) Tedious Droners

We all love our brands and businesses. We dedicate so much of our time and energy to them. They’re important to us because we stake our personal and professional reputations on their success. So much so, it can be inconceivable that other people might not be similarly engrossed in the minutiae of our lives.

So, treat yourself to a mindful moment; a second of humility. Ask yourself: ‘Why should anyone care?’ Why should they care that your latest software release has additional spyware functionality? Or, that you have launched a new website?

Just because you care so deeply doesn’t guarantee anyone else necessarily will. Don’t be the equivalent of the dinner party guest who regales everyone with his or her own life stories with little interest in anyone else.

12. Influence and Big Data Paralysis.

We celebrate views, likes and impressions as though they are the holy grail of accountability.

We become immobilised by the sheer volume and detail of the digital insights they offer. And we forget about the real living and breathing human customers at the other end of our product or service. We gloss over the authentic and personal connection and collaboration they crave.

As I write, I’m watching a news item about the introduction of robotic financial and healthcare advice. Operationally efficient it may be. It might even save money. But influential? I’m not so sure. (A massive opportunity for authentic human communicators here I think.)

When was the last time you felt happy (or relieved) to tussle with the options presented by a computerised telephone answering system? The kind of answering system that data proves is significantly more efficient and saves money! I’m talking about the kind of data-friendly computerised engagement responsible for the first meaningful conversation with many organisations.

I often speak to businesses chasing the big numbers: for example, advertising in 10,000 circulation magazines to help deliver a 20% turnover increase. A quick step back reveals that level of growth for them might only require three new customers. And, that’s best served by targeted, personal and relevant engagement.

13. Influence and Control Freak Brand Managers

We all like plaudits. We like results to demonstrate how well we’ve done. But the desire to own marketing successes can develop an unnatural control freak mentality in some marketing professionals. Success in the conversation economy is all about how successfully we lose control; not how we jealously guard it.

Brands should be springboards, not straight jackets.

And all stakeholders and advocates should be liberated by, and not stifled in, their ability to share stories and opinions about you, your organisation or your brand.

Rhetorical question: What’s more important – your personal esteem as you pursue peer approval for your great work? Or realising the massive potential of inspiring the interconnected communities; communities that are waiting for your brilliant unconditional contribution to their conversations?

14. Influence and Marginalised Marketers

I’m sure all departments in organisations feel isolated or hard done by at some stage. And marketers (we aren’t all control freaks) are no exception. From the many marketers I speak to, they often feel out of line with the rest of the commercial effort. It’s often because colleagues fail to identify with their perceived softer creative skills.

This can lead to commercial esteem issues. Then marketers become pale versions of their counterparts. They start churning out PowerPoint presentations. They chase KPIs that fit in with other disciplines’ ideas of marketing. And they turn their back on their own core skills and values.

Sad really.

15. Influence and Technophobes

Barely 20 or so years ago, our brilliant personal conversations were slow to be shared.

Our most valuable and interesting anecdotes might do the rounds in the pub. They might be shared by chance over the garden fence. Today, for the first time in history, the social digital revolution has changed things. The change means that those brilliant authentic personality-filled moments now represent a credible and scalable element of an insightful marketing strategy.

I am not a blind advocate of Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever. But I will say this: You can snort down your nose and ridicule people sharing selfies and pictures of their cat, tea, etc. as much as you like. But, if you are closed minded to the opportunity that social media represents, then you are actively inhibiting your chances of influence. No doubt about it.

16. Influence and Bottom Line Pouncers

This is the approach that only considers clients or customers as a cash cow. It’s the idea of seeing every person you come into contact with as a walking dollar or pound sign. And it’s a really bad way to initiate an influential conversation. Remember, we know when we are being sold to.  It is that precise moment that we, as ninja ignorers, are more likely to tune out.

I was a networking event a few years ago when I was pounced on. A delegate discovered I was in PR. Within seconds she wanted to know if any of my clients might be interested in her services. Today, she sends me unsolicited weekly emails. Each time I see them it reminds me of the moment she valued me more as a pound sign than someone who she might enjoy an influential conversation with.

I wonder how much of current marketing relies on pouncing tactics? We’re like a desperate ravenous lion pouncing on a wildebeest carcass.

17. Influence and Excluders

Whatever happens to our child-like confidence?

In his TED talk about ‘How Schools Kill Creativity”, Sir Ken Robinson recalls a wonderful story about a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six and she was at the back, drawing. The teacher said this little girl hardly paid attention, but in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to talk to her.

Teacher: “What are you drawing?”
Little Girl: “I’m drawing a picture of God.”
Teacher: “But nobody knows what God looks like.”
Little Girl: “They will in a minute.”

The little girl was so fearlessly confident that she was happy to reveal to the whole world what one of the most influential figures looked like! Then, (as the years pass) education, society, peers, colleagues, family all gang up to batter it out us.  That beautiful, unencumbered, innovative and innate desire to contribute is dulled and forgotten.

Perhaps it’s linked to the ‘speak only when you are spoken to’ mentality of Victorian England. Perhaps it still has its stubborn tendrils wrapped around many of us today.

It makes us too fearful to say what we think. It builds an active barrier to know, like and trust and the probability of influence. We exclude ourselves from the conversation.

People are too eager to suppress brilliant ideas. We are reluctant to share achievements. And we avoid conversational contributions for fear of being thought of as a bit showy; too full of ourselves; or – heaven forbid – thought of as wrong.

Similarly, organisations are reluctant to put their head above the parapet. They hate standing for something for fear of offending a vocal minority. The truth is that most people tolerate it when opinions don’t coincide with their own. We tolerate it because we can admire it when people at least stand for something!

18. Influence and Savvy Stakeholders.

Are you underestimating the intelligence and knowledge of your stakeholders? There’s this lovely naive purity that many marketers and communicators still actually believe that if they deliver a message then people will take it at face value.

Here’s a tweet:

Woodside Farms is a brand chosen by Tesco to specifically mask us from their meat production reality – whatever the reality might be. Close your eyes and use those two words – Woodside Farm – to imagine what Tesco meat production might look like. Stone built? Situated in rolling British countryside? Perhaps a babbling brook at one end of the top field? A farm dog playfully chasing chickens as they hide under an old tractor in the yard?

So, probably not much like this image in the Guardian?


The probable truth is that neither image truly represents the generic reality of supermarket meat production.

But stakeholders will pursue the truth to help us make informed decisions about who we should know, like and trust. And until we get the truth we will devise our own personal version of it. A version Tesco have less control over than they obviously believe!

As consumers, we’ve all been around the block when it comes to branding tricks. We know all about buy one get one frees and other inducements. Before we allow ourselves to be persuaded, we’ll seek out the transparent authentic truth. We base our opinions on both our perceptions and personal experiences.

I’m just watching news about the fallout from The Panama Papers revelations about tax avoidance. It reveals that many leaders have been squirreling cash away in offshore investments. And, at the same time legislating against tax avoiders in their countries.

Over three days of media questioning, our own British Prime Minister David Cameron has adjusted his own story. It’s gone from: not having any investments – to conceding he did have investments but he has paid all the appropriate tax due. It’s probably true.

However, he (or perhaps his advisors) assumed that the British public would take his initial denial of investments at face value. He used the tactic to avoid being dragged into a damaging Panama Papers conversation. But his weaseling around the issue has become an even bigger story. It is perceived as a lack of transparency. And that lack of transparency damages influence. If he’d been straight from the start it all would’ve been avoidable.

As savvy stakeholders we know that:

  • Politicians still hide bad news on days when there’s a global crisis of some sort.
  • A ‘No obligation free consultation’ is designed to make us feel obliged to spend money.
  • A free month with credit card sign up is offered as a trick not least because a percentage of customers will forget to cancel after the free month.
  • The furniture sale that ‘Absolutely Must End Sunday’ will be replaced by another sale in a matter of days.

We know!

We know!!

19. Influence, Pleasers and the Fear of what Others Might Think.

Earlier this year I banned five words from my conversations.

I had this shocking knee-jerk habit of, when asked if I’d like a cup of tea or coffee, replying by saying: “Only if you’re having one.”

Perhaps it’s a British thing? This crazy idea that if we don’t put people out, then they’ll like us more. The hope that, if we magically become a version of ourselves that fits in with their expectations then, they’ll want to have us around?

Organisations work the same way. The result is that they become a version of what they think a customer of client would like them to be most (a little like becoming a pale version of their competitors in ‘enemy’ number 9).

If you don’t say what you want or say what you think then people will only see this mirrored version of you. It’s a version that reflects all the qualities you think they might want to see. It’s not too difficult to see how it is a massive barrier to know, like and trust.

Constantly trying to be what you think other people expect of you will tie you and your organisation in knots – and lose you influence.

20. Influence and Lowest Common Denominator Media.

A few years ago I had a great result for a client when we announced the creation of 1,000 jobs. Within minutes it was the business lead on Sky News. Minutes later we were bumped off the lofty heights of lead by a garage near Norwich who had laid off 30 people. The media mirror had simply reflected our society’s generic lowest-common-denominator preference to dwell on bad news.

Years ago, journalism was a bastion of integrity. They existed for the benefit of each paper’s community of loyal readers. Legal wrangling has since revealed the unsavoury desperate state of press intrusion. And skim through the pages of most national papers today to learn about Kim Kardashian ‘showcasing her sculpted assets’ or ‘Not Suitable For Work’ photograph collections of skin conditions and medical mistakes.

It’s no longer information we need, or even information that we’d miss if no-one published it. It’s advertiser-appeasing link bait plain and simple. Other newspaper experiment with online membership models. Others bombard us with pop ups and auto-play videos.

It all adds up to a clear sign that the national media are struggling to make sense of their role – and monetising it – in the digital era as much as we are.

21 Influence and the Overwhelming Success of Global Social Media Champions

My daughter watches YouTube videos. Some of these young kids on YouTube have 10’s of millions of subscribers and viewers. When we take our first steps to reach our community and reach hundreds, perhaps thousands if we’re lucky, it can feel a little underwhelming. All that effort and still barely a ripple of significance on the internet pond. I’ll be unleashing a mini fist pump if this post beats 100! 😉

Did I miss any out? Let me know.

I’ve devised a simple common sense strategic framework. It’s to help people put up a decent fight in our battle against these enemies of influence. And I’m happy to share it if you are interested – get in touch.




Richard Glynn will help you stand out, build influence and become easier to buy from.
Click here to find out more.
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